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Customer Journey Sales Funnel Agency Leadership

The concept of a marketing ‘funnel’ is flawed. There, I said it

By Elise Stieferman, Director of marketing and business strategy



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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July 25, 2023 | 6 min read

Coegi’s Elise Stieferman tells The Drum that it’s time to drop one of advertising’s favorite concepts: the marketing funnel.

The inside of a pipe

Is it time to finally say goodbye to the idea of a 'marketing funnel'? / Ricardo Gomez Angel via Unsplash

The traditional marketing funnel no longer works for the modern customer journey because it makes assumptions about consumer behavior that are great in theory but not reflective of reality.

Marketing strategies have long been focused on creating awareness, increasing consideration, and driving conversion. Usually, this is visualized as an upside-down triangle, or a funnel, intended to show how marketers should start broad to ultimately whittle down to the ‘best’ customers.

This theory has many accompanying perceptions that can give marketers false expectations, leading to frustrations – internally from a lack of attributable marketing results and externally with audiences who are exposed to repeated marketing that doesn’t resonate.

So, what assumptions hold back marketers from maximizing their brand potential with consumers?

Assumption 1: the customer journey is linear

Theory: If someone visits any page on your website, they are likely interested in understanding more about your products or have already done their research to put your brand in their purchase consideration set.

Reality: More often than marketers like to admit, people visiting your website are just discovering your brand and are far from ready to take the next step (or even accidentally land on your site from a click gone wrong on social media).

Marketers cling to theory over reality because they’re addicted to last-click attribution and its historical use to prove the value of digital marketing. As a result, consumers are still oversaturated with retargeted advertising after simply visiting a company’s website, once.

The customer journey is highly nuanced and complicated. Usually, it’s not as simple as solving for x. Instead, multiple signals of interest along the way require marketers to build out personalized ‘if-then’ scenarios to optimize the acquisition process.

We need to blend the often siloed worlds of user, brand and marketing experiences and ground them all in robust data analytics to meet the expectations of savvy consumers.

Assumption 2: customer journey stages are distinct

Theory: First, in the awareness phase, you must prime your audience to understand ‘who’ your brand is and what it offers. Then, once they’re familiar with your brand name and logo, you move them to the consideration phase to educate them on your products and services and why they’re better than competitors’. Finally, your audience is ready to purchase: the conversion stage.

Reality: Consumers have different motivations for exploring products and services at any given time; sometimes out of want, other times out of necessity. They may concurrently go through discovery and education to expedite their purchase. While you can select marketing channels better suited for creating awareness versus promoting education, the customer journey is very much blended. Consumers may bounce back and forth across various stages before final purchasing decisions.

It’s important to consider all stages of the acquisition process. You may have historically heard people pushing ‘full-funnel’ marketing strategies. Let’s rebrand: a multi-touch marketing ecosystem that creates unique touchpoints that align with core consumers’ preferences and behaviors to help ease their decision-making process, no matter what stage of the journey they’re in.

Assumption 3: the customer journey ends after conversion

Theory: The primary goal of marketing is to drive consumers ‘down the funnel’ so they make a purchase or select your service.

Reality: The primary goal of marketing is to build long-standing relationships with key customers to grow lifetime value for your brand and build advocacy to attract and retain like-minded consumers.

This is the most potent assumption to overturn (and, otherwise, the most significant missed opportunity). Customer lifetime value is critical but often missing from marketing plans. Why? Because so many marketers are laser-focused on the path to the initial win, they forget to consider the opportunity cost of not nurturing relationships with those who have previously purchased or worked with them. Sometimes, this is a result of improper use of CRM data. Sometimes, it’s due to the distraction of the constant pursuit of finding new customers.

Either way, the reality is that driving the first purchase, donation, or contract is just a stepping stone on the path of the lifelong relationship between the brand and customer.

Marketers must incorporate a loyalty loop into their marketing strategy, whether through a formalized loyalty marketing program or other personalized marketing experiences that help convert customers into active loyalists. Failure to create an effective marketing loop increases the likelihood that customers fall into passive loyalty, where they will fall out of love with your brand or be wooed by the competition that has invested more effort into this stage of the journey.

The customer journey is far from straightforward. It can’t be distilled into a funnel to make the work easier and still be expected to have optimal effectiveness. It’s time for marketers to dig in and do the hard work to tailor their marketing experiences to better reflect today’s consumer expectations to build lifetime loyalty.

Customer Journey Sales Funnel Agency Leadership

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Coegi is an independent digital agency providing services across digital strategy, media buying, paid social, search and influencer campaigns. We bring together...

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